Jaguar Land Rover: the new British fleet option - Ken Forbes
German brands continue to dominate the fleet market, but will this always be the case when it comes to corporate mobility? Ken Forbes, global fleet and business director at Jaguar Land Rover, discusses a proposition that could change the tide and have financial directors reconsidering British brands for their company cars.
It is hard to deny that German names have dominated the fleet sector for quite some time now. It's a market overexposed to a powerhouse trio of the BMW 3 Series, the Audi A4 and the Mercedes C-Class. In fact, at the beginning of this year, the latter two companies were listed in the top 25 most well-regarded brands in a global survey. With such dominant premium models, it can sometimes feel like other automotive manufacturers don't get a look in.
However, one British company is setting out to challenge the status quo with its new strategy. Determined to maximise fleet business opportunity around the globe, Jaguar Land Rover is building on the strong foundations it has closer to home.
"We're good, we understand fleet in the UK and Europe, and we're investing further in these established markets to give our customers a better service. There are also other markets further afield - like Russia, China, the US and South America - that are very much new areas for us to conquer in terms of fleet and business," reveals Jaguar Land Rover's global fleet and business director Ken Forbes, regarding the organisation's pursuit of worldwide exposure.
However, in order to beat established competitors, you've got to have some pretty persuasive reasons for a corporate client to pick your brand over the old favourites. Forbes believes the biggest consideration for fleet managers all over the world has remained constant in recent years: he says it's all down to finances.
"We've got to make sure that, through competitive cost of ownership, we are attractive for the user chooser," he says. "And I think that's the same whether you're in Rio de Janeiro, Sydney or London. These guiding financial principles are very much evident."
Jaguar Land Rover has a proposition to put forward. The automotive manufacturer wants to remind finance directors that introducing new brands to a company's portfolio enables a more efficient spread of risk.
"Having a broader portfolio of appropriate cars - not just the German brands - is a very strong financial suggestion, and one we know people are actively considering," says Forbes.
The organisation has upped its fleet strategy in recent years, introducing new products to serve the corporate market. Dedicated fleet and business centres have sprung up to cater to customers in the sector.
It's an exciting time for the former Ford-owned company. In the pipeline is the release of the new Jaguar XE - a compact sports saloon due to launch in early 2015. Said to already be in demand with contract hire and leasing companies, the XE intends to be the new blood the German-dominated sector desperately needs.
"It's brand new and all aluminium. Finally, we've got a car that can go into the market and take on these well-entrenched products," says Forbes.
Efficiency: the name of the game
Technology is fundamental to Jaguar Land Rover's game plan. The organisation spends billions of pounds each year on R&D determining the most innovative features that are relevant in these environmentally conscious times.
The new XE boasts some impressive specifications and is all about efficiency. Forbes explains that the aluminium architecture is, for example, a major weight-saver and stronger than the steel equivalent. But the vehicle's engine is also incredibly competitive in terms of fuel use. The Ingenium engine, created at the company's manufacturing centre in Wolverhampton - set-up to produce a new generation of highly fuel efficient and powerful engines - consists of four cylinders and emits under 100g/km of CO2.
"Having a fuel-efficient engine is a hugely important proposition, because if you don't have those components, a lot of fleet operators just won't have you on their lists," Forbes explains. "Our intention is to have the best-in-class car in terms of fuel economy, CO2 output and cost of ownership. Those are key drivers."
It's important not to overlook the most superficial aspects of car ownership, however. Jaguar Land Rover knows that advanced technology isn't necessarily enough to make it stand out from the competition - the cars need to have a certain je ne sais quoi.
"A car has to have that sizzle, that appeal. We talk about all our cars having innovation, seduction and performance," says Forbes. "If you can't see the innovation, the seduction or the performance of a Jaguar, then we've failed.
"When people look at a Jaguar and drive our products, they are tremendously engaging cars. For us, that's a massive stand out - it's a path of our DNA. A Jaguar isn't a Jaguar if it doesn't feel alive."
Forbes knows his customers really do have to believe in the brand. He acknowledges that this "cool factor" is more important than you might expect in the corporate sector. A bit of personality can go a long way.
In order to take on the German market and beat it, the organisation has employed a disruptive media strategy. Forbes introduces the Jaguar F-TYPE as his company's poster child, the "halo car of Jaguar", that demonstrates the brand's sporting heritage.
The adverts for the vehicle feature well-known personalities, reinforcing the idea that this car is far from a humdrum choice. "Our adverts allow us to access the 35-year-old company-car driver, and say 'you know what? If you drive a Jaguar, that's a cool car.' It's a cool brand," emphasises Forbes.
"The F-TYPE is probably the best physical embodiment of this. Mark Strong drove an F-TYPE in our advertisment. Tom Hiddleston drives one. So does José Mourinho. And that's important, because we've got all the head components there, but we've got to make sure we have the heart as well."
Share and share alike
Looking to the future, while Forbes knows there will be a continued drive for competitive cost of ownership, he sees some big changes on the fleet horizon. More components of the digital world will enter the company car sector, he reckons. Vehicles will be more connected to smart phones and other devices. Telemetry will become increasingly prevalent.
"You will share data between your phone and the car, and you're going to do various actions remotely," he says. "So you can see how much fuel you've got in the tank, locally lock it and see how many miles you've done."
He sees a future where the car becomes practically inseparable from an office, where emails can be sent and received through the digital applications directly integrated with the vehicle.
For the time being though, he reveals Jaguar Land Rover has some ambitious plans. The £3-billion investment in R&D and infrastructure certainly won't be for nothing.
"Our R&D centre will spawn a whole host of other products that are appropriate for the 21st century. The new technology will allow us to develop more cars that are appropriate for the global market going forward," Forbes concludes.